Mike’s Barrand’s depression seemed to be behind him. It had been years since his doctor eased him off his medication. He was happily married, had a son and found a passion for running. Everything seemed fine. But soon his symptoms starting to make an appearance when he was running. He tells his story about how running helped him catch a bout of depression before it got out of control.
As told to Sinead Mulhern
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“It was the best runner’s high ever. My training was going well anything seemed possible, even winning the Boston Marathon.”
Laps on the track never felt better. I was training at my local track in Woodstock, Ont. The workout of the day: 400m repeats. I was acing it, running twice around the oval for one repeat, several times over. The sets were coming easy. By the last one, I was flying. With the workout completed, I stopped, did my cool down and started heading towards home. I remember being beyond happy–take normal happiness, pump it up and multiply it by a few hundred–that’s how I felt after this workout. It was the best runner’s high ever. My training was going well anything seemed possible, even winning the Boston Marathon. Everything in my life was exactly where I wanted it to be. I was buzzing with excitement. But by the time I got home, I couldn’t calm down. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t focus. I was wired.
It lasted two hours. Then, I came back to reality.
The reality was that I was a loser. My running was going nowhere. I was deluded, thinking that all this time spent training had a point. My mood dropped at a rapid pace. I doubted myself so much that it brought me to tears. Those feelings that I had before were gone, just completely vanished. I was on the other side of the emotional spectrum now. There was nothing I could do to get back a shred of the feeling that overwhelmed me when I’d stepped off the track. I fell asleep. When I woke up in the same state, I headed out the door for a run. I ran so I could feel up again.
That was August. Rewind 10 years.
Back before I started running, to be honest, I was mean and temperamental. My wife Stephanie thought something was wrong. She asked me to see a doctor but I refused. She kept at it. Still no. One day I said something like “Why do we even live?” and when a friend’s sentiments started to echo Stephanie’s, I agreed to see someone. I was diagnosed with depression and started taking medication. It kicked in immediately and I felt in control. I could finally think clearly. The change was as defined as when a person with bad vision puts on glasses for the first time.
“And then my symptoms returned, in perhaps the most challenging moment of all–late into running a marathon.”
On medication, everything was better. Not everyone with clinical depression needs medication forever–such was the case for me. When things became stable, my doctor weened me off. Four years ago, I started running. I ran 5K at first, worked my way up to the half-marathon and then the full. I ran the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon (my fastest was 3:00 in 2014) and now Stephanie and I take our six-year-old son on a running-related vacation every year. Running and family life were going well. And then my symptoms returned, in perhaps the most challenging moment of all–late into running a marathon.
Last year’s Ottawa Marathon was going well. I was in good shape. But at about the halfway point, I suddenly fell off. I felt fatigued and sick. Eventually, I gave in and dropped out. From there, I would be overcome with negative thoughts on every run. I’d finish running and have myself convinced I should quit. I ran the Chicago Marathon last fall and it was a similar story. I felt a little tug in my hamstring but blew it out of proportion in my mind, thinking it was a major injury. I hit another low. It was time to go to seek medical help once again.
“There’s something about this sport; you get so emotionally invested and when you’re constantly pushing your mind and your body to the limit, something like a mental health issue is bound to push its way through.”
My depression was back but it wasn’t out of control.The symptoms only showed up when running. I believe running actually saved me, helping me catch it early on before I spiralled out of control as I had in the past. I simply started on my medication again and like last time, I started to feel better right away. Running helped me catch the problem early on. There’s something about this sport; you get so emotionally invested and when you’re constantly pushing your mind and your body to the limit, something like a mental health issue is bound to push its way through. That’s what happened. Had it not been for running, I think it would have manifested.
Sitting in that doctor’s office, I finally understood that my running was off because I was going through another bout of depression. I sat there as he asked me questions about the different aspects of my life. I told him about my running, my relationship with Stephanie, my son, my work.
He wrote me a prescription and right as I was ready to go, he stopped me: “One more thing,” he said as I reached for the door knob. “About your running…” ‘Great, here we go,’ I thought.
“… don’t ever stop what you’re doing,” he said.
Stephanie and I are preparing to move to St. Catharine’s, Ont. We just need to change things up and be closer to family. I’m enjoying these last few months of running in Woodstock through the farming community is beautiful and challenging, with all of its rolling hills. I have a favourite trail that runs along the side of a lake where I often spot wildlife. It’s a great place to run. And just like my doctor ordered, I never plan to stop.